In the four years since the previous instalment was released, the Harry Potter universe has unfortunately been marred with controversy.
Those of us who used that world as an escape have had to make decision to either abandon the fandom entirely, or to separate art from artist. A difficult decision when every engagement with it furthers the extent of the author’s influence.
This alongside difficulties with the cast. Johnny Depp becoming a social pariah after complicated abuse allegations, and Ezra Miller’s awful behaviour towards his fans.
This has resulted in Johnny Depp being replaced with Mads Mikkelson. And a complete reworking of the character of Gellert Grindelwald. Mikkelson lands on a more subtle and less theatrical version of the villain; more David Bowie than Albino husky. That’s not to say both versions of the character aren’t good, but Mikkelson’s is arguably more mature.
Director David Yates and Producer David Heyman return, having both been with the franchise since 2007s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and 2001s the Philosopher’s Stone respectively. These two men are almost as intertwined with the on screen Potterverse as the author.
Unfortunately these films post (or pre – depending on your point of view) Potter have also been a little uneven in terms of quality. Tonally inconsistent, with perhaps too dark an atmosphere for the children many assume they are made for, and some sporadic pacing issues.
That being said they are not without their charms. The idea of an underdog done good being a compelling one, and the worldwide expansion of further ministries and magical worlds providing fascinating tidbits of info into a franchise where it’s strength has always been it’s worldbuilding.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore finds our characters a few years after the events of the previous instalment. Queenie (Alison Sudol) has joined Grindelwald, and Jacob (Dan Fogler), her muggle fiance, is trying to eke out a living in his bakery despite his grief. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates) are caring for Newt’s menagerie of creatures whilst trying to learn about and protect others as they find them.
Grindelwald seeks out one creature, a Qilin, as part of his plot to seek power, and our heroes will do anything they can to stop him. We also meet a number of other creatures we haven’t seen before, with both hilarious and terrifying consequences.
A more mature and complete film than it’s predecessors, The Secrets of Dumbledore is styled something like a spy film. Clever plots and elements not known by everyone keep the audience guessing alongside the heroes. Perhaps evidence of the author’s more recent exploration into crime fiction.
Recent politics clearly played into the writing, with lines being drawn between political power and celebrity. Although this is anchored in interwar Germany; perhaps a little too obviously, they clearly had something to say about recent events too.
It isn’t perfect, suffering from some of the same foggy CGI as earlier films in the franchise. It does beg the question as to whether that means it’s a stylistic choice, but if so it’s a strange one. Even on an enormous screen some of the opening action looks muddy and is difficult to follow. There is also an issue with some uneven accents. Jude Law, though excellently cast as the young Dumbledore, couldn’t seem to land on one.
But for its flaws Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is easily the best of the wider Potterverse movies by far. Lending more screen time to its minor characters and allowing those we think nothing of to be the true heroes. It gets to the core of what made those original stories so compelling. It doesn’t matter who or what you are born as; true strength comes from being who you were really meant to be.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is released in cinemas on April 8th.